Medieval painting techniques

About the meaning of the latin verb ‘matizare‘ in various medieval handbooks to the art of painting. On day two […]

About the meaning of the latin verb ‘matizare‘ in various medieval handbooks to the art of painting.

On day two of the course: Medieval Painting, which I have been teaching for many years, we zoom in on two important aspects of painting miniatures:

The colours of the face, the skin also known as inkarnate.

The painting of fabrics, clothes with folds.

I want to talk about the latter in this post and its relation to the special word: ‘matizare’. The word ‘matizare’ , is used in several medieval handbooks for painters. Among others, it appears in the 11th century work: De coloribus et mixtionibus. But we also come across it in the anonymous handbook for painters from the 14th century: De Arte Illumniandi, after which this website is named. Furthermore, it is used in a late 13th-century handbook from France and in a Portuguese work.

The word ‘matizare’ was used in several variations: matizare, amatizare, ematizare. In Spanish today, there is still a word ‘ matiz’ known as ‘hue’. In this post, I want to talk about the meaning of this word because the word is very relevant to the technique of painting in the Middle Ages, especially of pleating fabrics.

Above, we see that the folds of the clothes have not been rendered very plastic-, spatially. A few nuances in the colours and some lines sufficient.

The evangelist Matthew. Source: Digitale Sammlungen-DE. Evangeliar von Reichenau. 11th century.

The complex painting techniques of ‘incarnate’. Detail of one of mine own miniatures.

Another word, closely related tot the word matizare is the word: ‘incidere‘. This word means to darken the color especially in the (darker) folds of the fabric.

From: Cité des dames 1401-1500 Gallica BnF. In the image above, we see a trio of ladies clothed in dresses. The fabric, plasticity or spatiality of those dresses has been achieved with a minimum of visual effects. On a fond of colour, the folds are indicated with a few dark stripes and some shading. The whole gives the impression of draperies.

Painting clothes is about using painting techniques to evoke a certain spatiality that does justice to the folds. What is striking about the miniatures is that at the beginning of the Middle Ages, the suggestion of folds was very sparse. A few lines then suggest the fabric and folds. ( See above the image of the evangelist Matthew). The further we get in time, the more attention is paid to suggesting the plasticity, spatiality of clothing.

The prophet Samuel anoints David as king. The folds are already more elaborate here, there is less of a dark line at the folds but the dark areas in the folds already flow more into the rest of the fabric.

Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne
Jean Bourdichon, 1457 -1521.
Adoration of the Magi from the East (1503-1508). Here the suggestion of the fabric is raised to a great height. The light and dark of the folds in the fabric now flow smoothly. Source: Gallica

Painting manuals from the Middle Ages focused on painting clothes, and fabrics, among other things. Making a smooth transition between light and dark was difficult with the paints used. This was in contrast to oil paint, with which you can easily make smooth transitions. People therefore had to rely on painting techniques that suggested flowing transitions. And key words here were : matizare and incidere.

In modern terms, we speak of ‘raising’ and ‘darkening’. ‘Matizere’ is to lighten the colour lot so that that spot stands out spatially. ‘Incidere’ is making a colour patch darker so that it recedes spatially to the rear.

Below we see an example where I used this technique with real Ultramarine ( Lapis lazuli).

Here we see base layer ultramarine which is still fairly light. In the folds, I added ultramarine with some indigo(Incidere). This makes the darker folds seem to recede backwards.

Where the folds come forward and catch more light, I worked with white, raised. This brings out the high or convex sides of the folds spatially.(Matizare). Painted with real ultramarine made from lapis lazuli.

Here we see that the raising has been given an extra dimension by shading with painting gold.

With this miniature from: des Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne / Saint Jean l’évangélist, we see that the painting technique has been taken to an extreme. The shading with painting gold gives the folding and the image a lustre that is almost unearthly.

Painting folds as we see in medieval manuscripts is an art in itself. It can be done with a simple approach or with a more elaborate painting technique. We see many fine examples of this. In the Middle Ages itself, it turned out to be an item that people drew attention to, given that it was given attention in painting manuals.

Anyone who henceforth comes across the words: matizare and incidere, knows that it is about painting folds.